My Blog > Planning Your Genealogy Trip to Romania

Planning Your Genealogy Trip to Romania

In category Updates in Timişoara on February 12, 2018
As the busy season is slowly starting to approach, and requests start pouring in, I thought it appropriate to help potential visitors plan their trip as efficiently as possible, so as to make the most of their journey back to the homeland of the ancestors.
As for most this will be that once in a lifetime adventure, I believe that planning carefully and ahead of time can save you a lot of hassle, as well as the frustration of not having been able to check off all your boxes during your stay.
But what boxes should you have in mind? Who can help you fulfill your dream of visiting the ancestral home of your family? And what are the steps you need to take in order to guarantee you’ll have the best route to roots you could wish for? While some have dedicated several years to doing research, others have only recently taken an interest in their roots and, therefore, decide to drop by and visit the village where the great-grandmother once lived, just because they happened to be on a business trip in the neighboring country, for example. This second category has inspired me to break down the trip into those smaller boxes as, trust me when I say this, there is so much more you can look forward to than a mere stroll through the village. My area of expertise as a tour guide and genealogy researcher is mainly the area of Banat, but the following article may as well apply to the entire territory of Romania.

What can you hope to find, see and experience when in Romania?

- Information on the family that you were not aware about, such as: baptism/marriage/death dates, names of parents and godparents, occupations, place of birth/prior residence, number of children, marital status and, most importantly for your visit – addresses and house numbers (!). All this you can get by researching old church books in the archives, either once you are already in Romania or prior to your arrival, by hiring a researcher to do it for you.
- Visit the church where family members were baptized/married; see plaques dedicated to WWI and WWII heroes, as maybe some names will sound familiar;
- Go through the graveyard and find family tombstones. Should you find any important ones, you may try to have them cleaned/restored and, depending on the duration of your stay, actually get to see the job done;
- See the school building where family members studied;
- Identify the family houses (based on the prior research indicating house numbers or, if times were gentle enough, by the names still written in stucco on the house fronts);
- Surprisingly enough, sometimes you may even stumble upon people who remember the family or even living relatives! Expect a great deal of surprise on their side, as well, touching moments, and, most likely, an invitation to a nice home-cooked family meal!

How to make sure you can achieve most of the above?

Step 1. Identify, as accurately as possible, the region, county, town/village where your ancestors used to live before their migration. Bear in mind that names have changed a lot over the past two centuries, with the transition from the rule of the Habsburg Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the current Romania. Where settlement names have changed, a good starting place to find the Romanian equivalent of your family’s ancestral home (in the Banat area, for example) is here: http://www.dvhh.org/banat_villages/index.htm. For other areas, find a gazetteer.

Step 2. Find a genealogy researcher and tour guide (preferably experienced in family heritage travel) residing in the area you are interested in or willing to travel and take you to your place of origin. Browse TripAdvisor reviews and ancestry forums: those who have already taken such a trip will most likely have reviewed their experience and choice of researcher/tour guide/driver/translator. Choose wisely and carefully, remember this may be a once in a lifetime experience, as well as a holiday opportunity. You may want to be in the company of a responsible driver, a knowledgeable, entertaining and English language proficient tour guide.
Once you have your heart set on one such guide, contact them. Avoid reaching out via booking platforms. Such platforms will limit your communication, by forbidding you to attach files or images, which you will need to send your tour guide so as to be able to give you a quote. Also, they will take away a certain percentage of the fee agreed upon with your guide. Most often, both genealogist and tour guides will have a website or blog of their own and email is the best way to contact, as it allows for you and them to keep track of your conversations. Facebook page messenger or Whatsapp can be alternative ways of communicating.
Allow time for your tour guide to answer, as they will most often be busy touring and have less time for office work, especially during the high season. When you contact, tell them your family story as accurately as possible, as well as your expectations, and make sure to answer all questions one by one for a more efficient communication time-wise. Sometimes it may be quicker to schedule a Skype or mobile phone conversation as well. To that end, you may need to provide your full phone number (country code included).

Step 3. Book your trip. Check with your tour guide about your preferred dates for traveling before you actually buy your plane tickets. You need to be flexible, however, when it comes to scheduling your visit and have in mind the following:

BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT:
-Temperatures in Romania are usually extremely high in the months of July and August (especially) and mostly very low between December and March. That may leave you with 6 comfortable months to pick from.

TOUR GUIDE’S AVAILABILITY:
 - sought for tour guides may already have booked tours a year ahead, so some dates may be taken in their agenda;
- remember tour guides may have families, too. They may choose to not work weekends and will take such months as August and/or December off to spend the holidays with their loved ones.

CALENDAR:
- make sure you don’t plan your stay during bank or religious holidays, as archives and state institutions (such as town halls, graveyard administrations etc.) will be closed. Religious holidays are also tricky: the majority of Romanians are Orthodox, so holidays such as Easter may fall on different dates than, for example, the Catholic one.  And that is just one example.
Obviously, this will narrow down your choice of dates quite a bit, so it’s best to check with your tour guide before making a decision, lest you should leave without having accomplished all that you initially set out for. Depending on what you want to achieve during your visit, most likely your guide will know how to work their way around those difficult dates so that you don’t miss out on things, but be prepared to maybe spend a day or two exploring on your own or relying on other tour guides from the team, who will step in and take over.

So you booked your tour...:

You may find the following details useful, as you need to be aware of fees, payment methods and other costs involved in the booking and unfolding of your trip:

EXTRA SERVICES:
Most experienced tour guides will be able to provide more than just one service, and they will include: planning your stay from the airport pick-up, giving accommodation suggestions (traffic in the big cities is hectic, so it’s not efficient to book a hotel on the opposite side of town from where you’ll be going every morning, thus making your guide to drive for 2 extra hours each day in order to cross the city back and forth), organizing traditional meals, extra activities and tours, apart from those particular heritage trips, provide souvenir options. Ask your tour guide about what they can do to make your stay as pleasant and unforgettable as possible. This may save you a lot of hassle and you may get package deals and a more customized experience and treatment. Read about such an example here: http://www.timisoaratourguide.com/en/genealogy-tours

FEES:
Both guiding and research jobs will usually be charged per day. Apart from that, there may be charges for prior administrative/research work, such as contacting the key people involved in your visit and planning an agenda. There are several research sources (archives), which charge for research/photo fees. Other costs, aside from the tour guide’s fees, include: gas, meals and accommodation (as long as the tour guide stays with you), entrance fees/donations to museums and churches and, should anybody prove particularly helpful during the visit, tips and small gifts (such as a box of fine chocolates to express your gratitude). Family heritage trips are nothing like city tours, there is nothing standard about them, and many things may change as you go. Be prepared for random situations and unexpected expenses.

PAYMENT METHODS:
Check with your tour guide if they use PayPal or own a USD bank account where you can transfer funds. Some may require a deposit, so as to save the dates in their agenda, but most will trust you not to go back on your agreement. Remember most tour guides are self-employed and once they book your tour in their agenda, they will no longer take on other jobs. If you fail them, they will lose both sources of income. Try to be as clear as possible when you communicate the dates and number of days you will require their services and keep your end of the deal. Then agree with your guide on the currency they prefer to be paid in at the end (USD, Euros or the local Romanian currency - RON).

MUST HAVES:
Experience has shown me that it never hurts to be prepared, as most journeys end up in the countryside, next to abandoned buildings, in weedy graveyards trying to find tombstones with indecipherable writing, now washed away by time, in the heat or in the rain.
Apart from your regular personal toiletries, pack wet tissues, Kleenex, sun screen and mosquito repellant;
Water bottles and a small sponge, pen, pencil and paper, all useful for reading tombstone writings;
Comfortable footwear and long trousers to protect your legs from scratches; sun glasses; caps or even umbrellas to protect you from the rain or scorching sunshine;
Small energetic food (sometimes you may have to skip lunch, as you cannot find restaurants in all of the villages) and beverages;
Camera, batteries, mobile phone;
Small recipients and zip lock bags to carry dirt, pebbles or any other “souvenirs” from the villages as presents for family members who couldn’t make the trip;
Although ATMs are very common and most places in town accept card payments, it’s always useful to carry cash on you, both in USD or Euros and in the local currency, which is RON. Both for tips and donations and also if you may want to buy fresh produce or other home made products from the farmers’ markets or from the villages.

REMEMBER
Many things will not be as you expected them to be. Some will surprise you in a pleasant way; others will strike you as odd. Some things are done in the expected European way, no more no less than in Paris, others in the quirky Eastern European way. But you will soon realize the latter will definitely spice up your stay: grandma’s cooking which will remind you of your childhood, and people’s hospitality and availability to help, which will sometimes exceed the expected formal boundaries; most state run institutions will fail to replace toilet paper or towels in their toilets; you may still see oxen-driven carts or ploughs out in the fields; caravans of the traveling Roma will join your SUV on the main roads; subtitled television in your hotel rooms will allow you to watch original movies, while we’re not very fond of ice cubes or fully activated AC, so you’ll have to struggle a little to make your hotel maid understand that you’re not afraid of getting a sore throat; people speak several languages, though no longer Russian; food and drinks are very affordable and tipping (10%) is not included in the bill; I will, however stop here, and leave the rest of the observations to you. Just be open to new experiences and I’m pretty sure you’re going to get a kick out of them.

About the Author: Alexandra Irimia is based in Timișoara, Banat, Romania where she is a tour guide, genealogy researcher, professional translator and interpreter.
She may be reached at: contact@timisoaratourguide.com and her website address is:
www.timisoaratourguide.com

 
Tags: Ancestry,  Family,  Genealogy,  Planning,  Researcher,  Roots,  Timisoara,  Tours